Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior is a video game first released for Commodore 64 personal computers in 1987; the title was developed and published by Palace Software, and ported to other computers in the following months. The developers licensed the game to Epyx, who published it as Death Sword in the United States. Barbarian is a fighting game that gives players control over sword-wielding barbarians. In the game's two-player mode, players pit their characters against each other. Barbarian also has a single-player mode, in which the player's barbarian braves a series of challenges set by an evil wizard to rescue a princess.
Instead of using painted artwork for the game's box, Palace Software used photos of hired models. The photos, also used in advertising campaigns, featured Michael Van Wijk (who would later become famous as 'Wolf' in the TV series Gladiators) as the hero and bikini-clad Maria Whittaker, a model who was then associated with The Sun tabloid's Page Three topless photo shoots. Palace Software's marketing strategy provoked controversy in the United Kingdom, with protests focused on the sexual aspects of the packaging rather than decapitations and other violence within the game. The ensuing controversy boosted Barbarian's profile, helping to make it a commercial success. Game critics were impressed with its fast and furious combat, and dashes of humour. The game was Palace Software's critical hit; boosted by Barbarian's success, Palace Software expanded its operations and started publishing other developers' work. In 1988, the company released a sequel, Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax.
Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior is a fighting game that supports one or two players. Players assume the roles of sword-wielding barbarians, who battle in locales such as a forest glade and a 'fighting pit'. The game's head-to-head mode lets a player fight against another or the computer in time-limited matches. The game also features a single-player story mode, which comprises a series of plot-connected challenges.
Using joysticks or the keyboard, players move their characters around the arena, jumping to dodge low blows and rolling to dodge or trip the opponent. By holding down the fire button and moving the controller, players direct the barbarians to kick, headbutt, or attack with their swords. Each barbarian has 12 life points, which are represented as 6 circles in the top corners of the interface. A successful attack on a barbarian takes away one of his life points (half a circle). The character dies when his life points are reduced to zero. Alternatively, a well-timed blow to the neck decapitates the barbarian, killing him instantly, upon which a goblin enters the arena, kicks the head, and drags the body away.
If the players do not input any commands for a time, the game attempts a self-referencing action to draw their attentions: the barbarians turn to face the players, shrug their shoulders, and say 'C'mon'. The game awards points for successful attacks; the more complex the move, the higher the score awarded. A score board displays the highest points achieved for the game.
In the single-player story mode, the player controls a nameless barbarian who is on a quest to defeat the evil wizard Drax. Princess Mariana has been kidnapped by Drax, who is protected by 8 barbarian warriors. The protagonist engages each of the other barbarians in single combat to the death. Overcoming them, he faces the wizard. After the barbarian has killed Drax, Mariana drops herself at her saviour's feet and the screen fades to black. The United States version of the game names the protagonist Gorth.
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